This Instagram Account Spotlights Handmade Works by Indigenous Elders

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In Indigenous culture, elders are regarded with the highest respect. They are the backbone of their communities and hold key teachings and languages that help preserve their tribal traditions and carry them forward. Many elders also have a deep knowledge of craft and act as cultural conduits, teaching the younger generations how to weave, bead, and sew. Knowing this sacred role of Indigenous elders, Adopt-A-Native-Elder, a nonprofit program, is spotlighting and paying tribute to elders of the Navajo Nation—and helping them keep afloat during the pandemic in the process. 

On Adopt-A-Native-Elder’s website, you can browse a shoppable marketplace of works created by Navajo elders, including rugs, jewelry, baskets, and more. There are handwoven rugs that double as art pieces, turquoise squash blossom necklaces, and beaded bracelets. The offering is special enough on its own, allowing people from all over the world to support Native artists, but it’s the organization’s Instagram page that is truly captivating. 

On its Instagram page, Adopt-A-Native-Elder spotlights the elders themselves, putting a face to the people behind these intricate pieces. In one post, for instance, elder Rena Robertson holds up a handwoven rug that depicts imagery of the Bluebird Tree of Life. “In the Navajo culture, bluebirds are messengers from the Elders,” the post reads. “In this rug you will see the corn stalk growing from the ceremonial basket, representing the sacred nature of corn, because it feeds the people.” In other posts, elders such as Mae Dick pose with the yarn bundles that have been donated to them, dressed in their finest babushkas

The Adopt-A-Native-Elder program currently serves more than 800 Navajo elders, ranging from 75 to 105 years old. It has been active in the Navajo Nation since the 1980s, but has taken on even more importance this year. The territory was struck particularly hard by COVID-19, and for its elders, it’s been especially tough to sell or outsource their work. “It’s very hard right now,” says founder and executive director Linda Myers. “All the rug auctions are shut down, and a lot of the stores have shut down. Navajo Nation has a very strong lockdown right now. From 7 in the morning to 3 p.m. on weekdays, you can be out on the reservation, but from 3 to 7, you have to be on your homeland. And on the weekends, you can’t go anywhere.” To help alleviate the situation, all of the proceeds from sales on the website go directly back to the artists. You can also order a $50 yarn bundle set for an elder, as well as purchase food certificates, firewood, children’s school supplies, and other items for them.

The donations, then, not only provide a lifeline to elders and allow them to continue creating—but by spotlighting them and their work on Instagram, the organization also serves as a platform for the elders to share and sell their pieces in a time when it is difficult to do so.

Customers are not only getting a one-of-a-kind work that’s been made with love, they have the rare opportunity to learn about the history and meaning behind it as well as the elder who made it. “We represent the fine weavers and the not-so-fine weavers,” says Myers. “You can go on our website and find a rug woven by a 91-year-old grandma, and it’s as crooked as can be, and people will still fight over it.” 

Ultimately, supporting these elders also goes beyond just uplifting sole artists. Says Myers, “We represent not only the elders but their children and grandchildren, who are keeping weaving alive.”